Mechanical Components

Estimation Filter for Alignment of the Spitzer Space Telescope

A document presents a summary of an onboard estimation algorithm now being used to calibrate the alignment of the Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility). The algorithm, denoted the S2P calibration filter, recursively generates estimates of the alignment angles between a telescope reference frame and a star-tracker reference frame. At several discrete times during the day, the filter accepts, as input, attitude estimates from the star tracker and observations taken by the Pointing Control Reference Sensor (a sensor in the field of view of the telescope). The output of the filter is a calibrated quaternion that represents the best current mean-square estimate of the alignment angles between the telescope and the star tracker. The S2P calibration filter incorporates a Kalman filter that tracks six states — two for each of three orthogonal coordinate axes. Although, in principle, one state per axis is sufficient, the use of two states per axis makes it possible to model both short- and long-term behaviors. Specifically, the filter properly models transient learning, characteristic times and bounds of thermomechanical drift, and long-term steady-state statistics, whether calibration measurements are taken frequently or infrequently. These properties ensure that the S2P filter performance is optimal over a broad range of flight conditions, and can be confidently run autonomously over several years of in-flight operation without human intervention.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Camera Mount for a Head-Up Display

A mounting mechanism was designed and built to satisfy requirements specific to a developmental head-up display (HUD) to be used by pilots in a Boeing 757 airplane. This development was necessitated by the fact that although such mounting mechanisms were commercially available for other airplanes, there were none for the 757. The mounting mechanism supports a miniature electronic camera that provides a forward view. The mechanism was designed to be integrated with the other HUD instrumentation and to position the camera so that what is presented to the pilot is the image acquired by the camera, overlaid with alphanumeric and/or graphical symbols, from a close approximation of the pilot’s natural forward perspective. The mounting mechanism includes an L-shaped mounting arm that can be adjusted easily to the pilot’s perspective, without prior experience. The mounting mechanism is lightweight and flexible and presents little hazard to the pilot.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Plumbing Fixture for a Microfluidic Cartridge

A fixture has been devised for making the plumbing connections between a microfluidic device in a replaceable cartridge and an external fluidic system. The fixture includes a 0.25-in. (6.35-mm) thick steel plate, to which the cartridge is fastened by two 10-32 thumb screws. The plate holds one plumbing fitting for the inlet and one for the outlet of the microfluidic device. Each fitting includes a fused-silica tube of 0.006-in. (≈0.15-mm) inside diameter within a fluorinated ethylene-propylene (FEP) tube of 0.0155-in. (≈0.39-mm) inside diameter and 0.062-in. (≈1.57-mm) outside diameter. The FEP tube is press-fit through the steel plate so that its exposed end is flush with the surface of the plate, and the silica tube protrudes 0.03 in. (≈0.76 mm) from the plate/FEPtube- end surface. The cartridge includes a glass cover plate that contains 0.06-mm-wide access ports. When the cartridge is fastened to the steel plate, the silica tubes become inserted through the access ports and into the body of the cartridge, while the ends of the FEP tubes become butted against the glass cover plate. An extremely tight seal is thereby made.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Electromechanically Actuated Valve for Controlling Flow Rate

A ball screw would be both an actuator and a flow-control component. A proposed valve for controlling the rate of flow of a fluid would include an electric-motor-driven ball-screw mechanism for adjusting the seating element of the valve to any position between fully closed and fully open. The motor would be of a type that can be electronically controlled to rotate to a specified angular position and to rotate at a specified rate, and the ball screw would enable accurate linear positioning of the seating element as a function of angular position of the motor. Hence, the proposed valve would enable fine electronic control of the rate of flow and the rate of change of flow.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Magnet-Based System for Docking of Miniature Spacecraft

The capture envelope for this system is approximated by a 5-in. (12.7-cm) cube. A prototype system for docking a miniature spacecraft with a larger spacecraft has been developed by engineers at the Johnson Space Center. Engineers working on Mini AERCam, a free-flying robotic camera, needed to find a way to successfully dock and undock their miniature spacecraft to refuel the propulsion and recharge the batteries. The subsystems developed (see figure) include (1) a docking port, designed for the larger spacecraft, which contains an electromagnet, a ball lock mechanism, and a service probe; and (2) a docking cluster, designed for the smaller spacecraft, which contains either a permanent magnet or an electromagnet.

Posted in: Mechanics, Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Low-Friction, High-Stiffness Joint for Uniaxial Load Cell

Friction and hysteresis are minimized. A universal-joint assembly has been devised for transferring axial tension or compression to a load cell. To maximize measurement accuracy, the assembly is required to minimize any moments and non-axial forces on the load cell and to exhibit little or no hysteresis. The requirement to minimize hysteresis translates to a requirement to maximize axial stiffness (including minimizing backlash) and a simultaneous requirement to minimize friction. In practice, these are competing requirements, encountered repeatedly in efforts to design universal joints. Often, universal-joint designs represent compromises between these requirements.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Prolonging Microgravity on Parabolic Airplane Flights

Techniques for improving the approximation of free fall are proposed. Three techniques have been proposed to prolong the intervals of time available for microgravity experiments aboard airplanes flown along parabolic trajectories. Typically, a pilot strives to keep an airplane on such a trajectory during a nominal time interval as long as 25 seconds, and an experimental apparatus is released to float freely in the airplane cabin to take advantage of the microgravitational environment of the trajectory for as long as possible. It is usually not possible to maintain effective microgravity during the entire nominal time interval because random aerodynamic forces and fluctuations in pilot control inputs cause the airplane to deviate slightly from a perfect parabolic trajectory (see figure), such that the freely floating apparatus bumps into the ceiling, floor, or a wall of the airplane before the completion of the parabola. Heretofore, free-float times have tended to be no longer than a few seconds.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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